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Making the most of your conflict management skills

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Here at The Conflict Training Company most of the interventions and training delivery requests we receive are regarding how to best manage conflict when staff are dealing with customers. However, there is another area of conflict we also support people in managing – and that’s conflict within organisations; e.g. between members of staff. We think it’s an interesting area and we thought we would share some of the interesting facts and research we have come across on the subject; particularly as since the recession hit, conflict within organisations and teams has become a growing issue.

Paul Farmer, the chief executive of the Mental Health & Wellbeing organisation, MIND, made an excellent observation as to why conflict at work has increased over the last few years. He stated that “Working conditions have been incredibly tough… and the emotional fall out of the recession doesn’t just centre on people who have lost their jobs, but on people who are struggling to cope with the extra demands of working harder, longer hours, and under more pressure…”.
These thoughts were backed up by a MIND survey which found that as a result of the recession:

  • 10% of workers had visited a GP for support, 7% started a course of treatment for depression and 5% had seen a counsellor
  • 50% said morale was low in their organisation
  • 28% were working longer hours

And most tellingly…….

  • 1 in 3 said staff were having to compete against one another.

Not surprisingly, research by the CIPD in 2012 has shown that these conditions lead to an increase in conflict at work between colleagues. The impact of this conflict, if not managed can be huge. Research presented by Paul Latreille from the University of Sheffield this year, showed that as well as the significant loss of work time wasted during and resolving conflict, it can lead to:

  • Lower levels of motivation & productivity.
  • A loss of skilled employees (CIPD figures show 50% of conflict leads to people leaving the organisation).
  • Sabotage, theft and damage by employees.
  • More absence (CIPD figures show that in nearly two thirds of cases, escalated conflict leads to one or more people having absences from work).

And with CIPD surveys showing that 43% of managers reported having to deal with conflict ‘continually’ or ‘frequently‘ (and that’s just the conflict they are aware of) this is clearly having a huge impact. Furthermore, it’s not just those employees directly involved who are impacted, whole teams can be affected by the conflict between just two of its members, amplifying the negative effects on the organisation.

Therefore, in these difficult times when stress and tension can run high in organisations, the benefits of training staff to have good conflict management skills are clear. The same skills they use with customers can prevent conflicts from occurring and escalating with their work colleagues. This means there will be less conflict within their teams and organisations, avoiding the potentially huge costs when these conflicts do occur.

So next time you’re in a potential conflict situation with another member of staff, think to yourself, if this was a valuable, but difficult customer, what conflict management skills would I be using right now? It could make more difference than you think.

The Conflict Training Company run three courses in this subject area:

Having Difficult Conversations
Conflict Management Training
Dealing with Difficult Telephone Calls



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